SK On to Co-Develop Anode Materials with Urbix

Korean electric vehicle (EV) battery manufacturer, SK On signed a joint development agreement (JDA) with U.S. graphite processor Urbix Inc. Particularly, this move could help it establish a foothold in the U.S. anode material supply chain following the enactment of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).

Established in 2014, Urbix is an American materials producer. It specializes in processing natural graphite for battery anodes with environmentally responsible solutions. Based in Mesa, Arizona, Urbix is completing the construction and commissioning of its commercial-scale demonstration plant with 1,000 tons/year capacity. Further, it plans to expand its production capacity to 28,500 tons/year by 2025.

Under the agreement, the two companies will work together to develop environmentally responsible, high-performance anode materials customized for SK On batteries. Upon the successful development of customized anode products under the JDA, SK On will consider sourcing Urbix’s anode materials for its U.S. battery manufacturing facilities.

Anode is one of the four main components of lithium-ion batteries along with cathode, electrolyte, and separator. Specifically, it determines the battery life, charging speed, and energy density. Currently, graphite is the dominating anode material in commercial lithium-ion batteries.

Urbix employees monitor graphite processing systems at the company’s pilot facility in Arizona.

Paves Way for Anode Supply Chain

The JDA opens the possibility of adding diversity when it comes to the sourcing of anode materials. According to last year’s International Energy Agency (IEA) report, China accounted for 85 percent of global production capacity for anodes.

Should the partnership with Urbix extend successfully, SK On can also pave the way for establishing an anode supply chain in North America. At the same time, it will position itself to take advantage of provisions within the IRA.

SK On steadily reinforces its supply chain for key battery materials. For a stable supply of lithium, a key material for cathodes, SK On inked deals with Chile’s SQM and Australia’s Lake Resources and Global Lithium Resources last year.

An Urbix employee works in the laboratory at the company’s pilot facility in Arizona for graphite processing.

For SK On, the partnership will beef up its competitiveness as a leading sustainable battery manufacturer. This is true as Urbix processes graphite with innovative environmentally responsible methods. Also, Urbix is renowned for recycling 70 percent of chemicals less hydrofluoric acid and hydrogen chloride in the refining process.

“This agreement is meaningful in increasing the possibility of securing eco-friendly and high-performance anode active materials for use in SK On’s U.S. plants,” said Sun Heeyoung, SK On Vice President in charge of advanced research. “SK On will continue to work to develop anode materials that can maximize battery performance.”

“Working with such a renowned battery manufacturer means that we can accelerate our production efforts. Also, we can more effectively address the supply of graphite,” said Nico Cuevas, Chief Executive Officer of Urbix. “By utilizing Urbix’s innovative technologies, we can shift more of the refinement and production of battery-grade graphite to the U.S.”